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Gaza-Israel: this is no life

Karl Schembri, Regional Media Manager for Save the Children in the Middle East, lived in Gaza from September 2009 to December 2013. This piece reflects his personal impressions from living and working there.

Youths sort garbage in one of Gaza City’s main garbage deposit in December 2009

I first arrived in Gaza in September 2009.

Children were playing outside, swings were set out on pavements, people were shopping and visiting relatives.

 

The calm before another storm

Gaza was still struggling to recover from the Israeli attacks during Operation Cast Lead back in December 2008, but there was a great mood on the streets.

Life goes on, I thought. That was my first thought in November 2012, too, when fighting escalated once again.

Just after my colleagues had hurriedly evacuated, I heard the egg seller doing the rounds with his donkey, shouting for people to buy fresh eggs, as if nothing were happening.

 

Nights were the worst

Gaza was pounded by missiles launched by the Israeli Navy.

I could hear them whizzing overhead towards the heart of the city, the artillery shelling the strip from the north, and fighter jets and drones dropping their bombs.

Nights were worst. The drones buzzing ominously overhead 24 hours a day felt like having a factory upstairs.

Despite the cold, we had to keep windows open to avoid them breaking inwards during a blast.

The earth trembled from bombs that would detonate metres underground, leaving enormous craters.

Less than four years after Cast Lead, Gaza was still rebuilding – mostly through foreign aid funding – and now everything was being destroyed again.

 


Under fire once again

As I write now, from Amman, those Gaza streets are being pummelled once again by the full force of the Israeli military.

On TV, they are barely recognisable.

An entire family has been wiped out in the street where I lived for four years. Recent photos show heavy damage in the neighbourhoods of Al Shajaiya and Khuzaa.

 

A child killed every hour 

Houses, hospitals and schools in this tiny strip have all come under fire. One Palestinian child is killed every hour. Every six-year-old in Gaza is now living through the third war in their lifetime.

They risk being injured or killed. But also, I cannot begin to fathom what this will mean for their long-term mental health.

On the other side of the conflict, Israeli children have to flee to shelters whenever there are rocket attacks. The sirens spread fear and panic, although there are at least safe places where families and children can find shelter.

Children in Gaza playing in the streets of Gaza during Eid in September 2009
Children playing in the streets of Gaza during Eid, September 2009

 

The blockade made life impossible 

Everyone in Gaza tells me that while a ceasefire is desperately needed, things cannot go back to the way they were before the escalation.

The tunnels from Egypt through which essential goods circumvented the blockade had been all but destroyed.

My former landlady tried to get permission to travel to the West Bank for treatment when she found she had breast cancer; Israeli authorities refused.

More than 80% of Palestinians were dependent on humanitarian aid.

That is no life.

Beyond an immediate ceasefire – to ensure that six-year-olds today have a future – a sustainable solution must be found. That will require the lifting of the blockade – but also a willingness to put in place the building blocks for long-term peace.

Save the Children currently works in Gaza and the West Bank but as a global organisation, we are equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as about those in the West Bank and Gaza. We support an end to the violence against both peoples.

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